Vicki didn't make it to Boot's funeral, but she showed up at the grave site - stinking drunk. She had on a pair of filthy blue jeans, a tee shirt that looked like she'd slept in it, and her hair hadn't been washed in weeks. Tears streamed down her face.
She came up to my husband, Gayle, after it was all over and stared with wavering eyes into his face. "They forgot something." She said.
Gayle just took her in his arms and hugged her, but she pulled away.
"They forgot something." She said again, her fingers gripping Gayle's arms.
"What darlin'? What did they foget?" My husband asked softly.
"They forgot to say that everytime Boots hung up the phone, takin' to anybody, he said 'I love you.'
Gayle smiled and nodded, tears whelling up in his own eyes.
"How'd you get here, Vicki?" He asked her.
She jerked her head in the direction of a group of men leaning against a car.
"You alright?" Gayle asked. She nodded her head.
Gayle hugged her again and we walked away.
Vicki Jackson had spent most of her life around the Spraggins family, especially around Boots. She used to come to the nightclub the Spraggins owned, with her father. Even as a little bitty girl, she would sit in her father's lap and watch as he played cards, drank and smoked. When it was bedtime, she just went to sleep in his arms.
But, when Vicki was twelve years old, her father jack-knifed a tractor trailer truck on I-85 and was killed. She was devastated. Before long, she started showing up at the Shangrala by herself, and Boots took her in, just like he took in every stray dog or cat or woman or man that came around.
So, from twelve on, she spent almost every night, drinking, smoking, playing pool, taking drugs, picking up men and sleeping with them. Nobody at the nightclub seemed to think it was strange at all. .
Gayle said Vicki was 35, but, boy, she looked 55, as did all the women at the funeral. Fried chicken, potatoes, and fat back; smoking, drinking and drugs had AGED that group of women. They all had terrible teeth.
But, there were a lot of crying women there. Boots always had some woman living with him. He was the sort of sweet disaster of a man that always appeals to women's pathological need to rescue, or save, or reform sombody.
They'd move in, clean up his trailer (no small feat), try to dry him out, feed him, get fed up themselves, and eventually leave. Sometimes they left with everything that wasn't nailed down, but Boots didn't care, or didn't seem to. It wasn't two weeks before there was another one there, cleaning and fussing and taking his shoes off when he passed out.
Boots didn't treat them badly, he just didn't treat them at all. Boots partied. That's all he did, and there was no changing him.
He was supposed to be managing the Shangrala for his mother, but while Boots was talking, people would get up and walk out without paying. Boots never noticed. He would often pass out, and people would step over him to get the money out of the cash register. Plus, he was drinking up ALL the profits.
After a number of wrecks, drunk driving charges that Nida, his mother, had to fix; and a lock up in the detox unit, then the mental ward, Nida closed the Shangrala. It was like Boot's world fell apart.
"The Shangrala is my domain." He once said to my husband, and his domain was gone. He didn't feel comfortable anywhere else, drunk, stoned, or sober. Not that we ever saw him sober.
It was ironic really. Nida closed the Shangrala to help Boots, when in fact, it was the beginning of his final decline. Within three years, he was lying in a coffin, waxy and almost unrecognizable.
"I don't believe she showed up drunk." Gayle said referring to Vicki as we walked to the car.
"Well," I responded. "Look at it this way. Somebody had to do it. It wouldn't have been Boot's funeral if somebody hadn't shown up falling-down drunk."
God, I love making that man smile.